In today’s article I will introduce you to nine healthy foods that you should be incorporating more regularly into your diet to help balance out your nutrient intake.
How did I come up with these foods?
Food intake data across both the United States and Canada has shown that the North American diet is generally inadequate in six very important nutrients. These include;
iv. Vitamin D
v. Vitamin A
In order to come up with the food list that I am providing today, I reviewed the richest food sources of each of these nutrients. I then identified the foods that were among the best sources of more than one of these nutrients to come up with the nine on this list.
The foods that I selected are not only generally health foods, but they are specifically rich in multiple nutrients that North Americans tend to lack. In other words, if you are able to succesfully incorporate these foods (or similar alternatives) into your regular consumption patterns, you will essentially improve the balance of your intake and decrease the probability that your intake of any of these important nutrients is inadequate.
In doing so, you will go a long way to helping yourself achieve a better state of health.
So what are the nine foods you should be eating more regularly?
Some of my selections may surprise you, others you might have guessed. I will provide a full justification for each selection and also provide alternatives that are of similar nutritional value.
1) Swiss Chard (higher in some nutrients when cooked): It should come as no surprise that a leafy green vegetable would come first on this list. Most North Americans do not eat nearly enough vegetables, and introducing swiss chard into your diet is just the solution to this problem.
Why swiss chard? It is one of the highest dietary sources of vitamin A, magnesium and potassium. It also contains calcium and fibre, making it one of the best possible food selections you can make in the context of the average North American diet.
The added bonus? You get all of these nutrients for a negligble amount of calories.
Alternatives: Kale, spinach and other leafy green vegetables.
2) Bananas: Bananas make this list for a variety of reasons. They are inexpensive, easy to eat and highly portable which makes them easy to incorporate into your diet.
Among fruits, bananas are one of the richest dietary sources of potassium and fibre. They also contain calcium and magnesium.
Add a banana a day to your current diet to boost your fruit intake and improve your intake of these important nutrients that most people don’t get enough of.
Alternatives: Most other fruit, especially apples and pears with the skin.
3) Sweet Potato/Baked Potato (with the skin): I will start by saying that it is extremely important that you eat the skin when enjoying potatoes. The skin is the richest source of nutrients and fibre and you are missing out on major health benefits if you pass on the skin.
Although potatoes may get a bad rap in certain circles, they are rich in many important nutrients including fibre, magnesium, potassium and vitamin A ( sweet potatoes only).
They also represent an inexpensive source of dietary carbohydrate that can be purchased in bulk and are an excellent choice of starch for lunch or dinner meals.
Alternatives: Quinoa is a an exceptional alternative that is rich in fibre, magnesium and potassium and would have had its own section were it not so expensive. I would highly recommend consuming it regularly it if it is in your budget to do so, otherwise whole wheat pasta and brown rice are acceptable nutrient-rich, high fibre alternatives.
4) High Fibre Breakfast Cereal: We aren’t talking about Captain Crunch or Count Chocula here, but breakfast cereals can pack a serious nutritional punch if you select the right ones.
What kind of cereal are we talking about then? Pretty much any cereal that has at least 4-5 grams of fibre per serving ( as per the food label) will qualify as a strong choice in this category.
If you find multiple selections that you like with at least 4-5 grams of fibre, you might consider choosing one that is lower in sugar, calories and sodium. I leave that choice up to you.
Most high fibre cereals are rich in fibre and magnesium ( among several other nutrients they might be enriched with) and when combined with milk help to address several of the current nutrient inadequacies in the average North American diet.
Alternatives: Oatmeal, preferably steelcut varieties. Perhaps high fibre breads as well.
5) Milk/Alternatives: If you have read my previous works, you will know that I am not the biggest dairy fan or dairy eater. With that being said, I cannot deny that milk contains many of the important nutrients that most North Americans do not get enough of.
Milk is one of the richest dietary sources of calcium and vitamin D and also contains a good amount of potassium and vitamin A. There are very few foods out there that contain all of these nutrients in the same place like milk does ( primarily because milk is fortified with these nutrients, none the less it is still impressive).
In the context of the North American diet, a milk and high fibre cereal breakfast would go a long way to helping ensure adequate intake across many important nutrients.
Choose lower fat milk varieties if you are concerned about your calorie intake.
Alternatives: Non-dairy fortififed beverages such as almond or soy milk, greek yogurt.
6) Fatty Fish: Salmon, mackerel , trout and sardines all make the list here. Fatty fish generally get alot of attention for their omega-3 content, but it is the other nutrients that they are high in that make them even more valuable to the average person.
Depending on the specific variety you select, these fish are among the best sources of vitamin D, vitamin A, magnesium, potassium and calcium ( fish bones). Opt for variety in your fish intake to ensure you get the optimal amount of each of these nutrients.
Salmon, mackerel , trout and sardines are also low in mercury and thus their intake does not need to be restricted. Keep in mind that canned varieties are great alternatives if you are shopping on a budget.
Alternatives: Eggs (one of only a few other food sources of vitamin D), tofu or nuts for vegetarians/vegans.
7) Tofu/Beans/Lentils: A plant-based protein source was always going to make today’s list. Most federal health organizations urge people to incorporate protein from non-animal sources into their diet because most of us consume too many animal products.
The good news? Plant-based protein sources are financially and environmentally friendly, but also very important for your health.
Tofu and beans contain many important nutrients that animal protein products such as poultry or beef are not great sources of.
These include: fibre (especially beans/lentils) , potassium , magnesium and calcium ( especially tofu).
If you have been avoiding incorporating these foods into your diet for fear of distaste, now is a great time to try something new. I especially urge you to try tofu, which is more palatable than you could ever imagine and also very easy to prepare once you know how.
Alternatives: Different varieties of tofu or beans. Nuts are somewhat similar nutritionally.
8) Almonds: Almonds are another meat-alternative that make the list. If you can’t see yourself trying beans or tofu, you should at least try to include nuts in your daily diet.
Almonds are good sources of numerous important nutrients including fibre, calcium, potassium and magnesium.
I suggest opting for the non-salted varieties and keep in mind that almonds are a calorie-rich food. Adding just a handful a day will go a long way to balancing your overall nutrient intake.
Alternatives: Avocados, other nut or seed varieties ( sunflower seeds, pecans, walnuts).
9) Avocados: Avocados are all the rage these days, and for good reason. These little green ovals are one of the healthiest and most delicious foods you can eat.
They are rich in a great number of nutrients and healthy compounds but it is their fibre and potassium content that lands them on this list today.
If you haven’t tried an avocado yet, now is the time to do so. I personally tried my first avocado only a few months ago and have not looked back since.
Alternatives: Nuts and seeds are nutritionally similar to avocados despite being part of a different food group. Eggs and tofu are somewhat similar but more of a stretch.
Thank you for taking the time to review today’s article. The foods listed here are rich in many of the nutrients that the average person does not get enough of. For that reason, they are excellent choices to add to your diet to ensure adequacy in these nutrients. I hope that you will take away at least one food today that you could add to your diet to make it more balanced. I am confident that doing so will be an important step in elevating you to a better state of health. As always, I wish you the best of luck in all of your food and nutrition endeavours.
Until next time, Eat Up!
Andy De Santis RD MPH